ASHEVILLE, N.C. An enzyme found in cheese triggered false drug test results that led Buncombe County deputies to think a man with 91 pounds of tortilla dough was actually carrying that much cocaine, the sheriff said. Antonio Hernandez spent four days in jail in Asheville earlier this month before tests by a state lab came back showing he was carrying food instead of drugs.
A deputy stopped Hernandez on May 1 and found what turned out to be a mix of cheese, shrimp and tortilla and tamale dough in his truck. A portable kit used by deputies changed colors, indicating the mixture was illegal drugs. Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan said he didn’t know until this case that some foods, like cheese, can give false positives on field drug tests. He plans to have his officers talk to the company that makes the tests.
“What we are going to do now is check with the manufacturers and find out what they have found can cause false positives and put that into the training with our officers,” Duncan told the Asheville Citizen-Times. Officials at the state lab said they have seen false positive drug test results from food before, but it is rare.
Hernandez’s arrest angered Latino groups, who said he was targeted because of his race. He came to the United States in 1985 to harvest grapes and strawberries and became a legal resident four years later. He currently works for a carpet cleaning company in Carson, Calif., and was taking vacation to drive across the country and see his sister in Johnson City, Tenn., for the first time in nearly a decade.
But Hernandez missed a turn and ended up in Asheville. He told the newspaper through an interpreter that he saw steam coming from his truck and pulled over. A deputy approached, and Hernandez thought the officer wanted him to move and drove away with his hazard lights on. Officers thought he was trying to flee, and punctured his tires.
The sheriff’s office is writing Hernandez a $400 check to cover the food he lost when deputies thought it was drugs. But Hernandez said that isn’t enough to also cover other expenses like the impound fee for his truck. “That doesn’t pay economically for what I lost,” he said. “That doesn’t pay for my tires.”